To my ears, 2015 was the best year for music in a long time. Though these ears are certainly biased, as they hadn’t been this tuned into new music since… well, 2002. At least, that’s last time I felt compelled to compile a top albums roundup.
The biggest thrill for me this year was finding so many amazing new bands, such that only one old favorite wedged its way into my top 10 albums. Not even a former Go-Between could quite compete. (Sorry, Robert Forster!)
I know it’s rather old-fashioned to think in terms of albums, especially as I’m a bit of a singles girl at heart, but that’s why it’s so special when a full set of songs from a single artist can bring so much pleasure. Here are just over 10 that hit my musical sweet spots, plus a handful of others that have been in my regular rotation.
nstop’s Top 10 LP’s of 2015
Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (Bandcamp)
All Dogs – Kicking Every Day (Bandcamp)
Starting with a tie, because enough last-weeks-of-the-year listening to Protomartyr caused them to muscle into my top 10. Yet they couldn’t quite kick those dogs out.
As a child of the indie rock 90s, I fell instantly for the sunny, slightly grit-encrusted guitar pop of All Dogs. They may hail from Columbus, OH, but their croon and crunch brings me back to the rock clubs of my native Boston in the early 90s. “Sunday Morning” is the kind of laconic jangler that I’d have slapped on a mix tape right next to Fuzzy or the Blake Babies. One of the few bands on this list I haven’t seen live, which I plan to rectify in March when they come back to Seattle.
Would it be weird to say that the Protomartyr LP is my latest running jam? Well, it is. Something about this Detroit foursome’s third album is both propulsive and mesmerizing in a way that suits my steady-on — with occasional bursts of speed — pace. Joe Casey’s vocal delivery is wry and well-suited to the Chameleons-esque dark, glistening tunes. And did I change my flight to Australia just to ensure I could see them live in March? Well, yes I did.
Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Bandcamp)
Doomy postpunk mixed with mildly psychedelic guitar soundscapes, this debut LP from Canadian art-punks Viet Cong is turns blistering and smoke-shrouded (in the case of their live shows, quite literally). “Bunker Buster” leading into “Continental Shelf” provides a 1-2 punch of frenzy and release midway through, the highlight of the album.
Cheatahs – Mythologies (Spotify)
Like a walk through a sunshower, Cheatahs’ bright sound hits you with a nearly tactile shimmer, as distorted guitars and electronics swirl and percolate and envelop. While it’s clear these guys have more than a few mid-90s Creation label releases in their record collections, slapping on the shoegaze label would be as wrong as gluing a price sticker on a matte record album cover. Because it’s the stellar songcraft over the course of all 13 tracks that distinguish this as something that can stand on its own as a fuzz-pop beauty.
Tigercats – Mysteries (Spotify)
Yet another entry from the animal kingdom, London’s Tigercats craft surprisingly intricate melodies and rhythms that belie their surface tweeness. But the nasal male vocals of singer Duncan align with the sweet counterpoint of keyboardist Laura’s warble in way that, while perhaps an acquired taste for those who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a Pastels badge, make perfect sense for these lovely vignettes-in-song. Something like “Sleeping in the Back Seat”, with its refrain “lay your head next to mine,” could be treacly in the wrong hands, but here it’s simply sweet.
Twerps – Range Anxiety (Bandcamp)
The leading export of Melbourne, Australia’s thriving (and incestuous) guitar-pop scene, Twerps have winning songs and attitudes, like a Down Under Feelies on antidepressants. In fact, “Simple Feelings” opens just like that New Jersey band’s “Only Life” until… the exuberant second guitar comes in to spring it into territory beyond their antecedents’ cool equanimity. Music to make you want to dance and bob your head in time, things I couldn’t help but do myself at their stellar show this past April in Seattle.
The Chills – Silver Bullets (Bandcamp)
Along with the Go-Betweens, New Zealand’s The Chills have been my most beloved purveyors of complex, heartfelt pop since my teenage years. Yet they’ve been largely absent for the past 20 years, with small releases, much of it demos or archival material, to fill the gap. So I thrilled to each trickle from this new LP as the release date crept near: the sparkling melody of “Molten Gold” and the rat-a-tat-tat “America Says Hello.” And Silver Bullets, I’m happy to report, is the comeback album that Chills fans have been waiting for. Martin Phillips is at his best when putting his hushed romanticism on full display, as on the aforementioned “Molten Gold” and “Warm Waveform,” which gently bobs along in a saltwater pool, the music mirroring the comforting embrace of a lover described within. And true to its title, “When the Poor Can Reach the Moon” soars upwards with one of those effortless-seeming, cranial-lodging singalong melodies that Phillips at his best can do like few others.
Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida (Bandcamp)
Some albums blow you over on first listen; others creep up on you steadily, until you find yourself humming fragments of song while waiting at the bus stop. And its fewer bands yet that can induce you to do so when the lyric is “There’s sick on your lapel, daddy-o.” As the couplet concludes: that’s confidence. And Melbourne (Australia) band Dick Diver are full of it, in a relaxed, low-key, unshowy way. The product of four distinct songwriters in the band, this album swings in a gloriously idiosyncratic fashion, from loping laments to the effervescent pop of “Waste the Alphabet,” which positively vibrates with possibility.
Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Bandcamp)
A band I saw more than any other in 2015 (nine times!), Seattle’s own Zebra Hunt took their impeccable influences and synthesized them into original indiepop gems on this, their debut album. While some of what’s been written about Zebra Hunt have focused on their Antipodean musical forebears — who rank just as high in my personal canon — what I love about this record is unmistakably American: a sunny and shimmery, cool and laid-back west coast vibe. They know how to do everything from danceably jittery frustration (“Half Right”) to sweet love songs (“Always”) to epic pop soundscapes (“Haze of Youth”). As the band was in the studio near the end of 2015, I’m very much looking forward to more from Zebra Hunt in 2016.
The Moonlight – The Moonlight (Bandcamp)
Tense, dark guitar pop from Auckland, NZ, The Moonlight were also the dark horse in my album picks. Tipped to this band by Ben @didnotchart, I was shocked by the pleasure of hearing something so different from my other guitar pop or postpunk faves. It’s something about the mood and tone that is set, for this band delivers on their name: music for dusk and darkness pierced by silvery bright melody that pushes out between the clouds. Songs with spare arrangements, minor chord plaints providing brooding meditations on a theme, the power of spidery guitar lines compounding through repetition. And an underlying tension throughout that frequent fails to resolve, as if suspending the listener on the edge of a cliff, head tossed back over the crevasse. The Moonlight provided a sound I didn’t realize I was missing, and that’s a rare feat indeed.
Salad Boys – Metalmania (Bandcamp)
Another New Zealand band, another debut, this one just barely edged out The Moonlight for my top spot. Luring you in with the lovely, lilting melody of opener “Here’s No Use,” you’ll find this is simply the wind-up for the gut punch of pop perfection that follows: “Dream Date.” The chugging guitar intro is the fuse on a rocket, shooting sparks in every direction and never failing to induce a dopey grin on my face as I get set for the pop clangor to follow. And perhaps my delight is also because the memory of their live performance of this song — indeed, their entire set — last year at the Highline is indelibly seared into my musical pleasure receptors. A jangle both drawling and fierce, and more than a little reminiscent of the 80s heyday of certain NZ south islanders (why yes, I will drop the F word now: Flying Nun), Salad Boys’ music is yet still fresh and original and of consistently high quality.
Dianas – Dianas (Bandcamp)
Jay Som – Untitled (Bandcamp)
Day Ravies – Liminal Zones (Bandcamp)
Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv (Spotify
Cool Sounds – Healing Crystals (Bandcamp)
Skylar Spence – Prom King (Spotify)
The Orange Peels – Begin the Begone (Bandcamp)